--I’M LIVING HOPEFULLY
...Oh my, it's a beautiful morning. The lake is a flat mirror. There are no boats out yet. I wish you could see this There are a couple of waterfront homes for sale if you're interested.
...This (below) is a story I wrote that was just published in Cape Fear Review. I wrote quite a while ago and now after reading it again i realize it's a tough story. The thing is it's pretty much a page taken out of my childhood.
Love Like a Crooked Spine
She does not notice, but we watch her for signs of explosion. At the dinner table it’s Rex, Jerry, me and Mom. Mother chews the way a large hamster does, chubby cheeks crimping. I hold back a flinch when her fork tine screeches on the plate.
Though she did not say it, we know Mother thinks our dad died because he was weak. Her own father was made of cast iron, and a sawmill amputation hardly held him up from running a twenty acre farm. Her brothers, one in prison, and one that died in Vietnam, look down on us from the picture frames that hold their steely gazes.
We eat slow, the half-raw potatoes becoming oatmeal rocks in our mouths. We don’t want the meal to end because we don’t want what comes after. One of us will be guilty, one of us will have to administer punishment, and one of us must watch so that the lesson is learned by all.
Last week Mother found a pair of light purple panties in Rex’s dresser. She might have planted them. Either way, Rex pleading ignorance didn’t help matters. She shouted at me to use the end of the belt, the end of the belt, the end with the buckle, and when I didn’t, couldn’t, Jerry did so on me, as ordered.
I suppose we could stop it, the madness. We’re young boys, but there are carving knives in the butcher bloc. Even a paring knife would do the trick.
Mother looks up from her plate, a drool of gravy sludge on her jaw, catches my eye, forcing me to claim hers or else. She looks disgusted, yet says, “Do you know how much I love you?”
A girl I’m in love with says we were fated to each other. She’s a bit crazy, Wendy Adams, which is why I like her. Really I like Amy because she can stand the sight of me and where I live and who I belong to. Wendy believes everything happens for a reason.
I know she’s wrong. You can make up rationales, but if it’s just clever lies, then nothing was really planned out to begin with.
I don’t have friends, only Rex and Jerry. Still, I eavesdrop on the bus and at lunch. We’re not normal in this family. If there’s love here, it has a crooked spine.
The one thing I do agree with Wendy on is, “Tis better to have loved, than never have loved at all.”
I just drop the “d” and think, “Tis better to have love.” To have some of it, even the warped kind.
As I wash the dishes, Mother comes up behind me like a heat shadow. She says, “That plate there. Right there. It has a crack that wasn’t there before.”
When I nod, she says, “You’re right I’m right. We’ll see about that when you’re through.”
I always wonder if it’s the same stars and the same moon people see no matter where they are on the planet. Sure, I know they’re physically the same, but I wonder--if our moon is full tonight, is it that way, say, in Barcelona?
When I lean over my bunk and ask Rex that question, he calls me an idiot. He says, “You’re the reason she hates us, because you look like him.”
I don’t sleep. I keep hearing my brother’s rationale for Mother’s madness. I hear Wendy saying everything happens for a reason. I ask myself: is that why I look like my dead father, so we can be stripped and beat each night?
In the morning, I wake even before the rooster’s crow. I withdraw the biggest blade from the butcher block and slip through the screen door as quiet as I can. There’s a tall hill a mile behind our back yard. It’s a fine place to stargaze, to listen to the winds sweeping through the evergreens. It’s the kind of elevated spot where ancient Aztecs might have thought up the notion of sacrificing to the Gods.
The moon gleams off metal when I raise the knife. I’ve got time for one last question: Does this make me strong then, or weak?